Your DNA may reveal your last name
and World Science staff
Have you ever wondered whether youíre related to strangers who share your last name?
At least in the United Kingdom, a new study has found that men who share a surname often are indeed often related.
Whatís more, detectives could make good use of this information, the researchers added: it suggests it may be possible to predict a personís last name from his DNA. But this may work only for less common names, for which the relatedness is stronger.
The scientists compared DNA from 150 pairs of men who share British surnames, and found that about a quarter of pairs are linked genetically. The link was via the Y chromosome, the part of our genetic material that confers maleness and is passed, like many surnames, from father to son.
A simple correspondence between name and Y chromosome could in principle connect all men sharing a surname into one large family tree, the researchers said. But in reality the link may be weak for several reasons: the existence of multiple independent founders for many names, adoptions, name changes, and illegitimate children.
Nonetheless, previous research had suggested a genetic link for some particular names, the scientists noted.
In the new study, Turi King at the University of Leicester and colleagues recruited pairs randomly from the population. Pairs sharing surnames are on average much more likely to have matching Y chromosomes than pairs with different names, they found. The link becomes stronger as names become rarer. For example, there was no link for Smith, Jones, and Taylor, but a clear link for Attenborough, Widdowson, and Grewcock.
Linked men share a common ancestor from less than 20 generations ago, about 1300 AD, when last names were founded, the researchers said, adding that the findings will also be helpful to genealogists seeking to work out family trees.
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